The Answer to the DOL’s Final Rule on Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) Investments
The Department of Labor (DOL) has issued a final rule, “Financial Factors in Selecting Plan Investments,” concerning environmental, social and governance (ESG) funds in private employer-sponsored retirement plans, such as 401(k)s. While the final rule does not prohibit these investing choices for workplace retirement plans, its goal is to provide clear regulatory guidelines for ERISA plan fiduciaries, with the suggestion that ESG investing conflicts with their fiduciary responsibilities.
ESG investments advance positive social change such as improving the environment or promoting human rights. According to the DOL, decisions about these investments are not primarily pecuniary (in other words, determined and expected to be in the plan participants’ best financial interests, with a material effect on the risk and return), so plan fiduciaries may be cautious about recommending or including them in the workplace plans.
According to DOL Secretary Eugene Scalia, rather than further social goals or policy objectives, “This rule will ensure that retirement plan fiduciaries are focused on the financial interests of plan participants and beneficiaries, rather than on other, non-pecuniary goals or policy objectives.”
Therefore, employees who are saving for retirement through a 401(k) or other workplace plan may now experience some roadblocks when it comes to including ESG funds or individual investments in their retirement plans.
ESG investments can be held in self-directed IRAs as an alternative
Self-directed IRAs allow individual investors to embrace social investing and include alternative assets that align not only with their financial goals but their values as well. For example, the self-directed IRA can invest in funds and initiatives that combat climate change, nefarious labor practices, or human trafficking; or support green energy, fair trade cooperatives, and other investments that address inequities in the economic landscape, promote sustainability, and support positive governance practices.
With a self-directed IRA, investors have access to the same types of account types as they would with a brokerage firm, such as a Traditional IRA, Roth IRA, SEP IRA, or even a Solo 401(k). Individuals with these retirement plans can include a broad array of non-publicly traded alternative assets in addition to ESG-related assets, such as real estate, private equity, hedge funds, precious metals, private lending and more.
It is unclear whether there will be a lot of pushback about this final rule or how it may be amended in the future. However, for investors who want to proactive take control of their financial futures, opening a self-directed retirement plan is a great step forward. At Next Generation, we invite you to schedule a complimentary educational session to learn more about self-direction as a retirement strategy.